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In a weekly column, alternately written by Eveline van Zeeland, Derek Jan Fikkers, Eugène Franken, JP Kroeger, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla, Willemijn Brouwer and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, all work in their own way to find solutions to the problems of our time. You can read all the previous instalments here.

Dutch comedian and scientist Dr. ir. Jasper van Kuijk is the 20th winner of the popular national television NPO knowledge quiz ‘De Slimste Mens’ (The Smartest Person’). Jasper works at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) on user-centered innovation and public understanding of design. What is worth noting is that this season’s smartest Dutch person immediately emigrated to Sweden after the show ended.

As a participant in “De Slimste Mens,” and especially as a winning candidate, you get plenty of exposure and can attract a lot of publicity that you can then take advantage of. Previous winners, such as Rob Kemps (artist name “Snollebollekes”) from Brabant, have shown how true that is. So, for a lot of people, that aspect is an important reason to take part. Of course, you have to be quite thick-skinned to become a stand-up comedian. But to then pass up the opportunity to reap the benefits of the ultimate career boost because you want to leave the Netherlands says a kot. Not to mention that leadership is the variable which has by far the most innovation-driving force.

Scandinavian model

After a trial year working in a small town near a Swedish university where everyone still has their own home office and a relaxed lifestyle in a small village with a single basic store by a large lake, there is no way that ‘super-smart Jasper’ wants to return to a Dutch office garden or town house with a garden the size of a postage stamp. He resolutely prefers the Scandinavian model. Without the perks of the platform economy but with plenty of space, nature, peace and quiet, good neighbors and coffee breaks at work. It is not so much about changing countries. Sweden is not that different from the Netherlands. But primarily a change of lifestyle. “Heaps of space without any loneliness,” is his own comment on the decision to emigrate.


Which raises the question for me; Could we learn something from this? Is the Netherlands getting too hot, too busy, too competitive, too urban? Shouldn’t we also put more effort into becoming more pastoral? 

Yet at the same time, the level of urbanization correlates significantly to the level of prosperity. We are rich because we are one of the most densely populated areas in Europe. And there is no margin for more space. We will have to make do with the space that we have and use it as best as we can. 

You cannot do one and not do the other. Besides densifying cities, why not put much more effort into creating village-like towns and more meaningful green outdoor spaces by devising a village strategy? How densely or how sparsely populated a village can become without sacrificing its village feel, and without losing its rural character. What are some of those village characteristics you can build on? So that you can also recreate the environments that people like Jasper can relate to. As in, a typical case of user-centered innovation.